Distressed borrowers surge toward BofA unemployment programs
Bank of America (BAC) expanded its unemployment assistance programs to all areas participating in the Hardest Hit Fund, and applications poured in during the short operating times of the pilot programs. The help comes at a time when more and more unemployed are losing benefits. In April, there were 13.7 million unemployed in the U.S., according to Labor Department statistics. For the week ended April 30, 7.94 million were receiving some sort of unemployment benefits from the government, down more than 400,000 from the previous week. The Treasury Department initiated HHF in February 2010. State housing finance agencies proposed plans to help homeowners hardest hit by the financial crisis and received $7.6 billion in federal grants to fund them. Areas receiving the money are: California, Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. Ally Financial (GJM) said Tuesday it also expanded HHF help to all states. An Ally spokesperson said for the 5% of the servicing portfolio Ally owns, principal reduction could be considered an option. BofA started principal reduction pilot programs in California and Arizona. BofA worked with the state HFAs to develop specific programs to temporary assistance to help unemployed borrowers with their monthly mortgage payments. In December, BofA launched pilot programs with North Carolina, South Carolina and a small county in Florida. In January, it signed agreements with California and Ohio. More agreements were signed since finally reaching all 18 states and Washington, D.C. in May. Since December, the collective state HFAs received roughly 2,700 applications. BofA provided $2.8 million toward mortgage payments to 700 borrowers. Since January 2008, BofA provided nearly 840,000 modifications, but Rebecca Mairone, the bank's national mortgage outreach executive, said mortgage servicers have been unable to offer much help beyond short-term forbearance to those who are unemployed. "The unemployment assistance programs, in particular, extend help to homeowners who otherwise may not be eligible for the government's modification program and other homeownership retention solutions due to lack of qualifying income," Mairone said. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.